What Makes a Home?

The kitchen table with a glimpse of the living room.

Today I want to write about what “home” is.  This is a long meander.

I’ve moved, I’d imagine, a not-unusual number of times for a woman of my age in the US, including twice (oops, now three times!) 1,900 miles across the country.  And I moved around locally in the Washington, DC area any number of times after college.  But I was always – from my first tiny apartment – a person deeply invested in creating my … nest, my refuge, my safe space, as opposed to people for whom home is where they hang their hat, to use that old aphorism.

When my father died he was still living in the home I’d grown up in, the home he and my mother bought before their kids were born.  They were both homebodies and introverts, and I vaguely remember some brief drama as a kid, late-night arguments over whether to move several houses down the street to a home that was nicer than ours and had a backyard pool.  (Interestingly, I can’t remember who wanted to move, and what the counterargument was, but we stayed put.) My dad worked at the same government agency for thirty years, and outside of that my parents were people who mostly stayed home, surrounded by books and dusty furniture and kids and dogs.

I moved away to college and back, and to a series of apartments that became row houses and then houses, and now back to a one-bedroom casita (literally, “little house” in Spanish). It’s a fairly typical structure in Santa Fe and (I’m assuming) not just the southwest but some other parts of the US, where if your lot was big enough and building codes allowed, you slapped up an accessory structure in the backyard for extended family as needed. Many of the casitas here have turned into separate rentals, although they’re harder to get now as long-term tenants because people can make more money renting them to tourists on AirBnB, but I digress.

What creates a person with a strong sense of “home” and place? I know plenty of people who had one-home childhoods yet who move all the time and don’t seem especially attached to wherever they’re living at the moment. Yeah, they have furniture and dishes and whatnot, but it’s not a priority for them, it’s just the current address.  But I felt rattled staying at my friend’s lovely guesthouse this time, where I’ve enjoyed many a vacation stay, because (I realized) I had no home I was anchored to.  It hit me at an odd time, too – when I was making the final long-distance hand-over arrangements to the landlord.  I sat on my friend’s couch and sobbed, because that home – that rental we’d wound up in after my divorce, a nest I’d fully and deliberately feathered over the years as if my life depended on it, which on a psychic level it did – was gone, and not quite replaced yet.

But now I’m here in my casita.  My boxes arrived looking like they’d been kicked across the country, and it’s a testament to my packing skills that most of their contents were unbroken.  My furniture was generally okay, just grimy as hell.  I’d never seen the casita I rented except for a brief FaceTime tour, and I didn’t have a floor plan.  Everything was downsizing and guesswork.  And … you know what?  Holy cow, it’s perfect.  Kismet, like it was made for me and my stuff.

My corner kiva fireplace in the living room.

There’s been good luck too.  Nails in adobe walls that were the obvious spot for a particular piece of artwork. (You don’t bang nails willy-nilly into adobe and plaster, there’s strategy involved.)  Furniture that has an obvious spot—the spot – where each piece goes.  The only thing the movers lost over several truck transfers was my pandemic work desk, bought off Craigslist when we were settling in for the long haul (I met the guy in a parking lot for the exchange) and oh well, if they had to lose something that was the perfect choice! I replaced it at Goodwill a few days ago with the only desk they had, small and cheap and also, amazingly, a match for the wall-mounted bookcase it’s in front of. Finally, that “vase” on the kitchen table in the top photo is actually a big earthenware pitcher; my cream-colored one was a talisman for Santa Fe, I pictured fresh cut flowers in it every day on the kitchen table. Then the movers shattered it. But I used the maker’s mark on the bottom to find the exact same pitcher on eBay, this one in a deep blue I like even better.

I went in a different, more modern (but still eclectic) direction for the casita.  I sent the “real” furniture, fancy dishes, cookware, etc. to Maine with the kids for their new townhome together, including two heavy armoires (one ugly-beautiful Brutalist and one 18th century Spanish oak so massive even the movers gripe about it, I did say we’re eclectic!) and my daughter was thrilled to have them in her new home with the boys, because she didn’t own much.  I brought smaller favorites here with me – like our sunny yellow vintage Formica and chrome kitchen table that makes me smile, my Thonet bentwood chairs, my dad’s small secretary desk from his childhood, lamps and side tables and a coffee table from mine, and a dresser we bought in Santa Fe thirty years ago, back for its encore.

I already mentioned the smudging ritual; now each day I wake up early and clean as I build my new nest.  The focus this week has been on the wood furniture, which was overdue for polishing even before the move and desperate for attention after.  Is there anything more satisfying than that process?  That slow, methodical first dust and wipe-down, then a deeper clean as needed with a damp cloth and mild soap, and then a leisurely wax and polish, producing an immediate, tangible reward for the effort.  If I’m feeling antsy, I can grab a rag and pick up where I left off.  It’s peaceful and meditative.  The entire house smells of piñon incense and orange oil.

I’m still figuring out the sofa situation, since my exterior doors are only 28″ wide.  I’ll probably go with some kind of convertible couch (where the back folds down) or futon sofa.  To me, the living room won’t be finished until I have a sofa to sprawl on, to read and dream and nap.

What’s a home for you?  Do you nest?  Do you move all the time?  Is home where you hang your hat, or is it something much bigger and more vital to your sense of self and peace?

  • Alityke says:

    I’ve moved less often since I left my parents house. That was never my home. Too unsafe. I still loathe going to it. Makes me edgy & bad tempered. A shame as it’s almost 40 years since my father died & it became safe again.

    My mum told me I’m good at making a house a home. Not sure if it’s a compliment cos I’m not much of a housekeeper, but the kettles always available, the bread is homemade, food is always plentiful & the sofas have always been hug. What’s a bit of dust between friends n family?

    Your casita for one sounds perfect fir your new life!

  • Patty says:

    That sounds and looks just lovely! We need Camp March too! You sound content or decompressing to content. Yeah!

  • eatigs says:

    My God, looks beautiful, March! A perfect little Santa Fe nest. Hat-hanger here, and the only thing I need to feel at home is books, I guess. I had a completely nomadic life from ages 10 – 33 years old, just with Rubbermaid containers in the later years, instead of camels or caravans, and I’m not all that attached to the current place, either, I suppose, just there for the neighbourhood, now-below-market rent and convenience. I couldn’t care a fig for furniture and it shows — since B moved out, I’ve had to fend off at least three beloved people in my life who are desperate to totally overhaul the apartment from top to bottom.

  • VerbenaLuvvr says:

    I love the smooth clean, bright, and simple look of the adobe and plaster. My house is my refuge from the world and I want to make it more a restful place, a retreat from the outside. This weekend I began downsizing and removing excess from my life, things being donated and sold. Less to dust and clean, trip over, and feel crowded by. I has been somewhat difficult getting over the sentimentality associated with things that belonged to my parents and other family, but such relief in the end to let go. Simple living is so much better for my soul. Congratulations again on your move, it sounds like it has brought much joy and peace to your life.

    • March says:

      Thank you. It is hard letting go of things with sentimental attachments. I reminded myself that they were going to places where people needed and wanted them, and (especially toward the end) we had too much stuff in that little house! It’s been interesting observing myself deciding whether I want to add X or whether I really need Y for the new place, if it involves buying something and bringing it in. The amount of stuff we gave away was a bit of a shock.

      • Musette says:

        I did that with my garden, oddly enough. Resisted the Siren Song of the catalogues, have NO (absolutely not a one) containers on that wall, only 4 baskets (mostly for the hummers) and… it’s astonishing how much more restful it is. The only inserts this year were tithonia that Miss K germinated – they are coming along beautifully and will delight, come late Summer.

        xoxoo

  • Dina C. says:

    March,
    Your casita is looking marvelous! So happy for you! How thrilling to have a fresh start, and to give your old things a fresh chapter in their lives. As for me, I grew up military and have lived in six locations. Here in Virginia I’ve lived in 3 homes — our current one for 27 years. Home, how it looks and feels, is very important to me. It’s a constant work in progress.

    • March says:

      So you’re doing it the other way round — moved a lot as a kid, then settled into a home for 27 years, which sounds FABULOUS. And “home” can be evolving too – our tastes change, our needs change, etc.

  • Musette says:

    Wow! That’s looking GREAT!!! My notion of ‘home’ has shifted somewhat – when El O and I were splitting it was more about comfort and convenience – moving 130lbs of teeth and 4BRs worth of crap in less than 10 days, with nowhere to land, was a decision I was thrilled to not have to make. Now that I’m feeling less unsettled (the pending move, more than the split, was unnerving) I’m continuing to de-accession, with one unnecessary thing going either to Salv Army box or the curb.
    Glad you’re settling in!

    xoxo

    • March says:

      I know, that was AWFUL. I’m so glad you’re not the one who had to vamoose, since you had a whole lot more invested in where you were, starting with your amazing garden and landscaping. I love your place. I know the town isn’t your first choice, but as a visitor, your home and your current home town are charming.

  • Cinnamon says:

    This is just wonderful, March. Very pleased to hear it’s coming together, the movers didn’t do that much damage, and that eBay find sounds like it was meant to be. And the smell of pinion and orange. Home … I’m weird on home. I’ve moved a fair bit over the years and with each one divested stuff so that in this house now I’ve only got stuff that really fits. Have the same door issue so have a small futon couch which the dog uses most. Have my mother’s celadon vase, which was one of her favourite items; my father’s chair. I feel as settled here as I’m going to feel anywhere. Thing is if I could I’d live in a few places, moving with the season, like a rich person. I’d be here spring and autumn; some place in Southern Europe in the winter; some place warm and beachy for the summer. Wishful thinking.

    • March says:

      Ha! If I were rich enough, I’d enjoy different places as well, although if I were THAT rich, and traveling alone, maybe I’d just pay to stay in Hotel le Swank for a month or three rather than own my own place. I probably won’t get the opportunity to find out.

  • Kathleen says:

    Your casita sounds perfect for you, I wish you many good times and memories there.
    I’ve moved many times in my life; I’m not attached to the houses but I make them my home while living there. The past few moves we’ve sold or given away the big furniture. I now prefer a simple aesthetic. Funny, I spend more time at hone now and I want less in my home.
    Congratulations on finding your space and making it yours.

    • March says:

      Thanks! It’s funny about the big furniture, one of my goals was not to bring/own anything so big I couldn’t shift it myself. And I’m trying to be more mindful, as I start with a clean slate, about what I bring in here, knowing how painful it was to either pack or discard it recently.

  • MMKinPA says:

    Our next move will be a serious downsizing- we are in a 3 story house now and our son goes off to college in a year. I spent my first few years after college with very little – moved 5 times before ending up in Pittsburgh. Now we have 25 years of life accumulation including my mom’s grand piano…. I’m jealous of your casita, and that you managed to right size yourself for it!

    • March says:

      It was HARD — even with the ability to give a bunch of stuff to my kids for their own house. I could do a whole other post on “the reckoning” — how much we literally gave away on Craigslist curb alerts etc., and how I’d like to never have that much stuff again.

  • Filomena says:

    Your new home is perfectly lovely. I love your kitchen table.

    • March says:

      Thank you, I love it too! It was small enough to fit in our new, much smaller home, and we’ve had some great times around that table.

  • Tara C says:

    Despite having moved cross-country 7 times (!) plus multiple smaller moves, I am a nester and having a home where I feel safe is super important to me. I’m moving in to my next home in less than two weeks and really looking forward to unpacking my boxes, decorating and settling in (after I smudge of course). Even though I doubt this will be my final resting place, I’m planning to stay at least 10 years, so it will be home for a long while.

    I’m going to try downsizing my possessions though, so I will be careful as I unpack not to overstuff the closets and cupboards. My goal for the next move (if there is one) is to leave everything behind except what will fit in a small UHaul truck. I am not spending $$$ to move all this stuff to another space which will undoubtedly be much smaller.

    • March says:

      The MONEY I spent on a long-distance move, and considering what a crap job they did in some ways, grrrrrr. Totally support your downsizing into one small UHaul.

  • Portia says:

    WHOA March! You’ve got so much done already. It’s looking so lived in and loved.
    Wishing you all the comfort and joy home can bring.
    Personally, maybe I’m a 50/50. There was some movement in my youth in rentals with various friends and lovers, and three apartments in the two years spent in London. They all felt like home but were never particularly homey.
    I’ve only owned three homes that I lived in though. Family home after my parents died which I alternatively lived in and rented out till we sold it in 2014, town apartment on and off over the last 20 years, Jin and my apartment we live in now. They have all been feathered comfortably to my taste and are set around the big old table. That’s the most important space because the table, that table, is where real connection happens for me.
    Portia x

    • March says:

      Yep, a table to gather around, that’s the heart of the home! As I commented above, that one funny small table has seen some great times. I’m looking forward to some post-COVID gatherings with friends old and new.

  • Pam says:

    Your home is beautiful already! I’m more of a nester too. We haven’t moved a lot. But some. This latest was 500 miles and downsizing. It’s been five years, but I’m still finding ways to make it homier.

    • March says:

      There are always new ways to make it homier, aren’t there? And the downsizing is hard when you do it, but I am thrilled to have less stuff, and mindful of not randomly acquiring more!

  • Ann says:

    Fantastic formica table, so beautiful in the light with what looks like a fuchsia runner. What a relief to not have to worry about picture placement or furniture placement. Welcome home!

    • March says:

      Thank you, honey! The runner’s a red-and-white check that does indeed read fuchsia in the photo. It’s hiding (shhhhhh!) the leaf insert, which doesn’t look fabulous on the sides, but I wanted it in the table for a change, since I don’t have extra storage space.